A few days ago, I stumbled upon a peculiar artifact that had been featured in a Facebook group dedicated to metal detecting. This group serves as a hub for enthusiasts from across the Balkans, sharing their uncoverings. The author of the post asked for help with identification of the object.
The item in question bears a resemblance to an amulet, featuring an inscription in an unidentified language. It was unearthed in the vicinity of Vukovar, Croatia. This is the original photo:
After reaching out, I managed to obtain another picture that offers greater clarity of the inscription. Regrettably, by the time this second picture was taken, the object had already been cleaned. Unfortunately, this cleaning process led to the disappearance of a few lines from both the drawing and the inscription. This is the second image:
The last piece of information that I have is that the other side of the amulet is blank – there is nothing on it.
AN IMPORTANT UPDATE: I managed to buy it off and I donated it to the museum in Vinkovci, Croatia. This museum hosts the largest Avar collection in Croatia. They confirmed that the artefact is authentic and promissed to publish and exhibit it. They will also keep me posted with updates, and I will update this article when that happens.
The Magical Deer
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the central representation of a deer or a stag. The Vucedol culture, which thrived in the region around Vukovar during the Eneolithic period, demonstrated a deep connection to the natural world, and the deer played a vital role within this context.
Deer were often depicted in various forms of Vucedol art, including pottery, sculptures, and even sacred burials. Their frequent presence in artistic representations suggests that they held symbolic importance beyond their material value as a food source. It’s possible that deer were associated with deities, spirits, or cosmological concepts within the Vučedol belief system.
However, this concept is better known from the Scythian art of the steppes. The deer held a vital role in Scythian art, signifying both practical and spiritual elements. As skilled hunters, the Scythians relied on deer for sustenance, highlighting their survival abilities. The deer’s presence also had a spiritual dimension, potentially linking to the divine or cosmic realms. Deer was often engraved on precious items, showcasing status and reverence within the Scythian society.
The Mysterious Script is Kárpát-Medencei Rovásírás?
Initially, my thoughts leaned towards a connection between the inscription and the Linear scripts of the Mediterranean, considering the established links between the Vucedol people and the Minoans. However, upon closer analysis, the characters bear a resemblance to a blend of Old Hungarian and Khazar script, suggesting a more recent origin for the object.
Indeed, the majority of the letters bears resemblence to the Old Hungarian script known as Rovásírás. See here. This script bears the name of the minority known as Szekely. See here. The true identity of the Szekely is unknown, but nowadays it is assumed that they were of Hungarian origin, although they were always considered as a separate group.
However, the name Szekely predates the official arrival of the Huns to the Balkans. It can be etymologicaly linked to the ancient Siculians, who lived on the Balkan side of Adriatic since at least second century AD, as attested in the Ptolemy’s Geography. And perhaps, this name is even more ancient than that, and can be traced to the group of sea peoples known as Shekelsh, attested in the 13th century BC. Sicily was named after them. See here. It is quite probable that Szekely, Sicukians and Shekelsh are all just a variations of the name of the Scythians. These names laso sound like Saqaliba, which was an Arabic medieval designation for Slavs / Sklavins.
In any case, there is one major problem with this being an Old Hungarian inscription – a few letters present on this amulet do not correspond to the Szekely script. Instead, they bear resemblance to the Khazarian rovas script and, ultimately, to the Old Turkic runes found on the steppes.
The Old Hungarian script was first attested in 720 AD. On the other hand, the first notable incursions of the Huns into the Balkans occurred in the late 4th century AD, around the 370s and 380s. Is this inscription a missing link between the original Old-Turkic alphabet and the more recent Old-Hungarian?
It just might be, because there is another ancient script that predates the Szekely Rovasiras. It is known as Kárpát-medencei rovásírás. See here. There are only a handful of inscriptions preserved. Those inscriptions were translated in Old Hungarian, Slavic and Turkic languages.
The language of the Avars?
I believe that this object could have been made by Avars. The history of the Pannonian Avars is indeed related to the Balkans and the region around Vukovar, Croatia. The Pannonian Avars were a nomadic people who established a powerful confederation in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. They played a significant role in the history of the Balkans during this period.
The Avars established their Kaganate, a political and military entity, in the Pannonian Basin, which includes parts of modern-day Hungary, Croatia, and Serbia. Vukovar, located in modern Croatia, was indeed within their domain during their rule in the region. See here.
Indeed, in one of these inscriptions, I might have discovered the same sequence of letters. More info about this inscription here.
It won’t be easy to date this object without a translation. I have reached out to a couple of groups that deal with Old Hungarian and Old Turkic scripts, but still haven’t received an answer. I will update this article in case I get more information.
In my opinion, this object belongs to the period when Avars and Huns arrived to the Balkans, somewhere around 3-7th century AD. The language is probably Hungarian, Avar or Turkic. For this reason, I gave up on the attempts to decipher it myself, escpecially because in these scripts the same letter can have a different sound, depending on its position. In other words, it really takes an expert to read it.